God’s Design: Peace

These thoughts were offered at Franklin United Methodist Church on Sunday, July 29, 2018. This message was based upon a reading from Ephesians 2:11-22.  This is message is part of a series, entitled “God’s Design,” based upon the book of Ephesians.
     I have developed a handout to accompany this teaching and, hopefully, further the discussion in your home or small group. You can download it here.

 

The United Methodist Church is embroiled in divisive debate about how it might faithfully include persons of every sexuality into the church’s life.  At our last General Conference—the global gathering of United Methodists—the gridlock became so fierce that the Conference asked the bishops to commission a group  to “do a complete examination and  possible revision of every paragraph of the Book of Discipline concerning human sexuality and explore option that help to maintain and strengthen the unity of the church.”[1]

“The Commission on a Way Forward,” as it has become known, has completed its work; and, in February 2019, a special General Conference will be convened to discuss possible ways to move the church forward.  In the mean time, the entire church has been invited into a time of prayer and discernment as we figure out how to live together in peace—without demeaning and devaluing each other’s opinions and salvation.  We will, no doubt, have to talk about the Commission’s work and their proposals as I don’t want you to be unaware of the decisions that we may have to make in wake of the General Conference; but, that won’t be today.  If you want to talk about the Commission’s work and would/or would like to know more, let’s schedule an appointment to talk.

As part of their discussion and discernment, the Commission on a Way Forward members read and discussed The Anatomy of Peace: resolving the heart of conflict.  The book was also put on the bishop’s recommended reading list at annual conference.  So, I picked up a copy and began reading it this week.

I’m not very far through the book.  I’m nearly through with Part I of IV.  It is an interesting read.  In the opening pages, it has offered some very insightful commentary on the foundation of peace and conflict.

Perhaps the most unique feature of the book is that while the title—and even some of the commentary—is very technical, the book is written as a narrative, like a novel.

At the end of the preface, the authors explain that

Although some of the stories in this book were inspired by actual events, no character or organization described in this book represents any specific person or organization. They share our strengths and our weaknesses, our aspirations and our despair.  They are seeking solutions to problems that weigh us down.  They are us, and we are them.  So their lessons offer us hope.[2]

But, they don’t—or at least not for me.  While I totally understand the power of story and am often moved by a good one, my hope was that this book would offer some case studies—real stories, not ones that have been contrived—that demonstrate peace and how to achieve it.

Truth be told, we can make up all kinds of fanciful stories about peace; but, our world needs concrete examples of it.  Our world—we need to be able to tangibly see it, because so often our lives and our world are without it.  Conflict, chaos, and war (real and the threat of it) abound to such a great extent that we—or at least, I am often pessimistic about the possibility of peace.[3]

My generation, the millennial generation, and the one before, generation X have hardly known peace in our lifetimes.  The Gulf War (1990-1991), the Somalian Intervention (1992-1995), Bosnian War (1992-1995), War in Kosovo (1998-1999), War in Afghanistan (2001-present), and the Iraqi War (2003-2011, but we’re still there as part of an “intervention”) are just a few of the conflicts and wars that have marked my generation’s childhood and adult life.  It is easy to be cynical about peace and believe that it doesn’t exist.

Why is peace so elusive?  What keeps us from living in peace?

 

One of the first observations (on the first page of the preface!) in The Anatomy of Peace is that “parties in conflict all wait on the same solution: they wait for the other party to change.  Should we be surprised, then when conflicts linger and problems remain?”[4]  So often peace eludes us because it is contingent upon the other person changing or doing something.  This often seems unfair to the person who is asked to “do all the work,” so no resolution is ever found, or if it is begrudgingly so.

In our reading for today, Paul reminds and reassures us that peace can be achieved.  It is real; and, it can only, truly be found in Christ.  “He is our peace; in his flesh he has made both groups into one and has broken down the dividing wall, that is, the hostility between us” (Ephesians 2:14, New Revised Standard Version).  “Christ is our peace.  He made both Jews ad Gentiles into one group.  With his body, he broke down the barrier of hatred that divided us” (Ephesians 2:14, Common English Bible).

According to the author of Ephesians,

The circumcision [Jews] and the uncircumcision [Gentiles] are two separate groups within humanity…  One group was considered outsiders, the others insiders with regard to covenant with God… This separation between the two groups was not limited to theological disposition—to ‘belief’; it played out in very real ways in terms of human social relations.  While it would be incorrect to say these groups of people had no interaction, it is important to understand that they did not sit at the same table together; they were not interested in sharing life.  They were opposed.

This passage trumpets the good news that God has brought uncircumcision and circumcision together.  One radical element of this message is that God’s unification of the two groups does not mean ‘uniformity.’ One group does not fall under the power of the more dominant group.  Rather, Paul says that God in Christ has made one humanity of the two.  Gentiles do not become Jews; Jews do not become Gentiles.  Rather, both Jew and Gentiles become united in Christ as Jew and Gentile….[5]

In Christ, disparate groups are brought together for there is “one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is above all and through all and in all” (Ephesians 4:5-6, NRSV).

Christ is our peace.  In him, through his life, death, and resurrection, we come to know that God’s love is boundless.

22 The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases,
his mercies never come to an end;
23 they are new every morning;
great is your faithfulness. (Lamentations 3:22-23, New Revised Standard Version)

Christ is our peace.  In him we are assured

that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, 39 nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 8:38-39, NRSV)

Christ is our peace; and, as we follow Him along the Way we learn the path toward it.  We are empowered to reach out in love, like God, to all—whoever, wherever, and whatever they might be—with forgiveness, mercy, and love.  We find the courage to forgive even our enemies (Matthew 5:44) and turn the other cheek (Matthew 5:39).  And, in so doing, as we follow Christ and allow his Spirit to dwell within us we not only find peace but live into it in our relationships with others.

Christ is our peace; and, as we seek to follow him along the Way, we will find peace in our time.

Amen? and amen.

 


We sang a beautiful and powerful song after the sermon, entitled “Christ Is Our Peace.”  Words by F. Richard Garland, 2014; and, music by Jean Sibelius, 1899 (tune: FINLANDIA).  You can find the words and music on UMCDiscipleship.org (here).


[1] “Commission on a Way Forward, UMC.org <http://www.umc.org/who-we-are/commission-on-a-way-forward> accessed July 29, 2018.

[2] The Arbinger Institute, The Anatomy of Peace (Oakland, CA: Berrett-Koehler, 2015), p. viii-ix. Emphasis added.

[3] I found an interesting blog entitled “The Wars of Each Generation” by Ken Bentlage.  I’m not sure who Ken is, this appears to be a personal blog, but I found it interesting and commend it to you (https://kenbentlage.wordpress.com/2010/11/12/the-wars-of-each-generation/, last accessed July 29, 2018).

[4] The Anatomy of Peace, p. vii.

[5] “Commentary on Ephesians 2:11-22” by Kyle Fever, WorkingPreacher.org, https://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=2598, accessed July 14, 2018.

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